John’s Modern Cabins is one of the most famous road relics on Route 66. The buildings have been allowed to decay for over 30 years, with most of the cabins on the verge of no longer being salvageable. Some of the cabins, ironically the newer ones, are piles of rubble with energy inefficient refrigerators and random piles of rusting metal collapsed in junkyard forts. The “main” cabin that holds the neon sign with its brains blown out still stands with the red paint chipping off, the metal crumbling into detritus and remnants of glass tubes hanging off the face of the sign like old scars.
The main cabin with the remains of the neon sign.
The first time I went to John’s Modern Cabins, in 2005, the main cabin was in a good enough condition that it could have been picked up and shipped to the Smithsonian. Now, it’s head has been bashed in and the walls left to rot in the Ozark rains. Continue reading →
The sides of barns from Oklahoma to Illinois demand you visit her. Billboards beckon you for miles at a time along Route 66 and Interstates 55, 44 and 70 to explore her insides. She’s one of the first landmarks in the world to advertise her name on the backs of cars courtesy of the bumper sticker. Mermec Caverns is no mere cave—it’s origins as a shelter harken back to the Osage tribes who used her to stay warm during harsh winters or keep dry during severe storms well before Europeans came to steal, rape and rob the lands.
The ballroom of Meramec Caverns. Don’t let the neon and the tiled floor fool you—the tour is an impressive spectacle of the power of nature.
When French explorer Philipp Renault came to the New World, the Osage told him about a cave whose walls were lined with veins of gold. in typical colonial fashion, Renault when to the cave to claim his riches, only to find the gold veins were really saltpeter. So, O.K., it wasn’t gold, but saltpeter could just as easily be mined for it’s high demand in the use of creating gunpowder. In 1720 Renault named the place Saltpeter Cave and for over a century Saltpeter Cave was used to produce gunpowder.
The building has been abandoned for over seven years. The Tropics used to be the area’s hottest tiki bar, built by a post-WWII vet who served double-pattied burgers, but the fad of the Atomic Era-inspired South Pacific craze quickly came and went and The Tropics went from a simple coffee shop/diner to a diner to closed.
Atlanta, Illinois, was born of the railroad—like many towns/cities in the United States—and when the railroads went, so did Atlanta. With a population hovering around 1,600 for the past few decades, Atlanta is not a withering city, but a small town welcoming visitors with a yellow smiley face painted on their water tower. Back in 2001, I remember driving through the town and seeing nothing but empty, rotting buildings, with the exception of the grocery store on Vine Street that had no signage indicating what it was. Today that market is still there with its front glass window subtly painted with the words “Country Market,” and it’s been joined by a few businesses that have not only been revived, but have a steady (though small) flow of customers daily.
Tall Paul stands in the center of Atlanta, Illinois, across the street from The Palms Grill Cafe.
A few years ago, Atlanta started reshaping its downtown to entice Route 66ers, and when Tall Paul was planted in the middle of Main Street it provided the first of many photo-ops as well as landed Atlanta on the very small map of towns/cities home to a fiberglass Muffler Man, here known as Tall Paul.
When I stopped at the Dixie’s Trucker’s Home in 2011, I wrote the following:
Dixie Truckers Home, a gas station and diner where drivers of all sorts found a cup of coffee strong enough to punch you in the face and food like momma made, was started in 1928 by J.P. Walters and his son-in-law John Geske. In 1967, John’s daughter C.J. and her husband Chuck Beeler took over the place. As C.J. recalled in the Illinois Times, “Dixie was not really much when it started. My dad and grandfather bought this old mechanic’s garage right on 66. Only used about a quarter of the space, and there wasn’t really a restaurant then–just six counter stools for people to sit while they got something to eat…. The very early years were the Depression years, from ’29 to ’33. I don’t really remember much about those times, except I know beggars would come to the back door of the kitchen to get something to eat. Hobos got off the train that went close by, and they knew they could always get something. My mother would never turn them away.”